For centuries, humanity has looked to the moon for inspiration and guidance. Since our first encounter with the lunar landscape, humankind has been captivated by its beauty and mystique. From picking crops to putting men on the moon, we have all heard of the accomplishments that the human spirit can achieve when unified across the globe. While we may have never left our cozy homes to explore the moon in person, recent missions to the solar system have reignited our passion for the moon and reminded us of its endless beauty and mysteries.
From Apollo 11 to the present day, humans have slowly yet steadily explored the moon and uncovered its mysteries. Lunar water has been identified on the surface, and the minerals in the soil have been found to be similar to those on Earth. The moon has been found to have a magnetic field, a thick atmosphere, and evidence of volcanism. Furthermore, the dark side of the moon is less dusty and more visible than the light side, leading scientists to believe that there could be liquid water present there as well.
Perhaps the greatest discovery since the dawn of humanity is NASA’s Solar Energy, the technology that enabled man to walk on the moon and transform our world. Once thought to be futuristic science fiction, this technology is now a reality, and it is changing the way we approach energy and space exploration. It is with this in mind that we review the fascinating history of how NASA’s Solar Energy gave us the moon.
From Rockets To Satellites
The quest to put a man on the moon began in earnest with the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. At the time, the United States and Russia were rival superpowers, and the space race was on. Although President Eisenhower had barred the military from exploring space, the government agency was nonetheless established with money primarily raised through the military industrial complex. This was mainly due to the fact that the space race with the Soviet Union was seen as a competition for technological superiority and a source of national pride.
The American spirit of innovation overcame the bureaucratic roadblocks designed to keep space exploration out of reach of the common folk. Over the ensuing years, NASA pioneered the use of commercial technologies developed for other purposes and incorporated them into space missions. Since its inception, the agency has been responsible for some of the greatest technological advances in human history. This is perhaps most evident in the form of the Apollo program, which was created to put men on the moon and bring them back safely. Its official start date was July 20, 1960, and it ended on December 8, 1972.
The program consisted of 12 missions, all of which achieved their objective. The final Apollo mission in particular was monumental in that it became the first human habitation of another world. It was also the last time that humans set foot on the moon. It is estimated that the Apollo program alone contributed $15 billion to $20 billion in economic output and created over a million jobs in the process. Of these 12 missions, only one did not achieve its goal of landing a man on the moon: Apollo 6. Launched in February 1966, the mission was originally designed to test equipment and procedures for the Apollo Lunar Landing Program. Unfortunately, the Saturn V rocket that was supposed to carry the crew into orbit became unstable due to a faulty oxygen tank, and the mission ended in disaster when the crew had to evacuate the burning vehicle. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, and the agency was able to recover much of the spacecraft.
This early work set the stage for the future. Even today, many of the technologies that NASA developed for the Apollo program are used in modern-day space missions, including the solar energy that enabled the agency to walk on the moon and beam back pictures of Earth simply by capturing sunlight. This is in fact the fundamental idea behind solar energy and why it was chosen as the method of choice for the Apollo program. It was initially thought that this type of power would be too intense for humans to harness directly, but, as we now know, the opposite is true. Capturing energy from the sun is easy and sustainable, especially when compared to other fuel sources.
The Solar Nuclear Power Of The Sixties
In the decade that followed the Apollo program, the United States saw the rise of the anti-war movement and a desire to bring the troops home from the escalating Vietnam War. This era also saw the rise of many new and innovative technologies, and space exploration was no exception. This is largely thanks to private efforts and grassroots activism that banded together to create a counterculture that embraced all things alternative and anti-establishment. Its members saw the space program as a symbol of American ingenuity and technology, and they were motivated to make their voices heard on this issue. The group, known as the Yippies, became famous for their anti-war protests, most notably at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where they were arrested for causing a ruckus. This eventually led to the creation of the Youth International Party (YIP) in 1970.
The YIP was founded by Tom Forcade and was inspired by the political ambitions of the YMCA, a group that the founders had helped found. The YIP was established with the intention of getting “more peace and less war,” and its members protested the Vietnam War and many of the wars that have followed in its wake. This activism led to its chief strategist, Robin D. G. Owens, developing a plan to use solar power to power the Earth. Inspired by the work of J. Gregory Puckett, a professor of nuclear physics at the University of Texas at Dallas, Owens came up with the idea of a “solar furnace” to harness solar energy. Using a process known as neutron activation, this innovative idea would harness the power of the sun to generate electricity. This approach would be more efficient and cleaner than other methods, such as solar panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity. Owens and his team built a working model of the reactor, known as Solartron, and presented their findings at a conference in California in 1970. This conference, which was organized by the Institute for Energy Analysis, was attended by over 200 nuclear physicists from around the world. The following year, the design of the reactor was finalized and it was given the official name: Sollatron.
The year is 1971, and the United States is in the middle of a fuel crisis. Fuelled in part by the energy crisis and environmental concerns, the nation’s population is searching for new and sustainable ways to generate electricity. It is at this point that the Sollatron and other similar designs are considered for mass production. Unfortunately, these reactors are not without their flaws. They are known for being large and bulky, which makes shipping them for installation at power plants difficult. This problem is compounded by the fact that they are also extremely expensive to build – the Sollatron alone cost around $600,000 to $800,000 in 1971 prices. Furthermore, they are prone to mechanical failure, which is why most nuclear physicists who test them never use them for power generation, but instead store them for future use in case of an emergency. As demand for sustainable energy sources continues to grow, this problem will likely be solved soon. However, despite all their flaws, these designs did change the course of history. They are now recognized as the pioneer of solar thermal energy, which is used extensively in solar power plants around the world today.
The Rise Of The Solar Power Movement
It is often said that the modern era of space exploration began with the Apollo program. Although that might be true, the true pioneers of the space age lie elsewhere. It was in fact the late 1960s and early 1970s that saw the rise of the green movement and Earth-bound eco-warriors, many of whom saw the space program as a symbol of American imperialism and the Vietnam War. It was during this time that many alternative fuel sources were considered, from photovoltaic cells to wind power. The Yippies were at the forefront of this movement and used their anti-war platform to argue for the widespread use of solar energy to power the country. This was partly due to their opposition to the Vietnam War and the excessive use of energy that was fueled by it, but it was also because of their opposition to traditional forms of energy generation and what they saw as America’s addiction to fossil fuels. They used their slogan, “Solar Power, Abolition Of War,” to promote their message. However, this was a tough sell to the American public, who were more likely to support the military effort than question it.